"There was all the things I wanted to have in the first Divinity that never happened, and so now that we said 'okay, let's go independent,' the opportunity was there. You have no idea how many emails we received from people asking us to do something like the first one again."
Larian founder Swen Vincke is a man on a mission. Now freed from publishers and able to pursue its own agenda, the veteran RPG studio plans to bring the venerable Divinity series back to its roots with Original Sin; replacing Ego Draconis' real time action with the more familiar turn-based stylings of its 2002 progenitor. In many ways, Larian feels that Divine Divinity was an unfinished article, and plans to massively improve on everything from drop-in multiplayer to divergent narrative and copious item combinations, while still delivering the same tone, art style and feel of the first game.
With Vincke on hand to talk through some of the features, I sat down at E3 2012 to check out Larian's work in progress. As it turns out, Divinity: Original Sin is an RPG made for two.
Divinity: Original Sin hinges around two characters: a musclebound ex-prisoner and an amnesia-suffering murder victim who's mysteriously returned to life. Called into action to investigate a rampaging Orc horde and mechanically-enhanced undead in the troubled land of Rivellon, this power couple will explore the expansive world, team up to take down enemies, hire on mercenaries to bulk out their party and doubtlessly unconver some dark mysteries surrounding their past (we have our suspicions). The relationship between these two characters, whether directly controlled by the player, managed by AI or another player, ties into every aspect of the experience, both in terms of the story, exploration, combat and endgame.
"I wanted to have a turn-based RPG, so when you go turn-based, you have to change the camera - you have to get a tactical overview," Vincke explained. As such, Original Sin's combat is familiar isometric turn-based fare, with characters acting in order of initiative and expending action points to move or attack. However, powerful Source Magic allows the two heroes to "manipulate the forces of nature and weather," using a number of elemental powers to advantage. Water can be deployed onto the battlefield with rainfall spells and summarily electrified with lightning, rendering massive mechanical golems immobile. Tar and oil surfaces beg to be set alight using fire-based magic, creating barriers or AoE killzones. The environments teem with different options to experiment with, while varied character abilities and weapon proficiencies should make for a versatile combat system.
Of course, role-playing is much more than hacking and slashing (well, it should be, at least), and Original Sin features plenty of different gameplay opportunities to explore. Townsfolk all have dialogue to embark upon, subquests to pursue and belongings to steal, and since they form their opinions of you based on your actions, they can have markedly different relationships with both characters. "There a whole bunch of things that we never managed to finish in Divine Divinity," Vincke continued, "like the item interaction, which I wanted to go much, much further." Combine a sword with a mushroom, for example, and you'll coat the blade with poison. Accidentally eat said fungus, and you could quickly knock up an antidote with an apple and healing potion directly from the inventory menu.
Multiplayer is set to play a major role in Original Sin. The turn-based structure will allow for two players to hop into the action at any time, either adventuring together or splitting up to pursue their own ends on different sides of the map. Though turn-based combat often doesn't translate into a smooth synchronous multiplayer experience, Larian believes that Original Sin will sidestep this potential pitfall, not to mention providing unique gameplay opportunities. "Divinity is split up into multiple maps, but these maps are large," Vincke elaborated. "In these maps you can go away from each other as far as you want. One guy can be in turn-based combat while one guy is shopping around. That's the cool part, it's a bit strange when you think about it."
"You'll have to wait your turn [in combat], but there are all kinds of settings you'll be able to do like max time etc," he continued. "It's not a game you're going to be playing with strangers: you're going to be playing with friends. It's 'drop in, drop out' multiplayer, so the AI can always take over, and someone else can jump in again. It's made to play with friends."
That said, your friendships will frequently be tested by divergent dialogue options that will potentially lead to major arguments. Players and even party members have equal say when it comes to major decisions, so in a nod to tabletop RPGs, conflicting opinions are resolved by rolling the virtual dice and factoring in intimidation or charisma statistics. As an example, the duo argued about whether to attack or parley with some bomb-toting undead, which resulted in a small argument followed by the most persuasive player winning out; who proceeded to embark on a metaphysical discussion with the confused and surprisingly verbose abominations. Convinced that their purpose in life is to explode, the volatile revenants proceeded to do just that, but the encounter could just as easily lead to a difficult combat situation. Moral decisions will also play an important part in the story, and whether the two characters end the game on good terms will affect how the plot ties up.
Divinity fans will be pleased to note that Original Sin is as dark yet strangely quirky as they'd expect from the series, both in terms of art style and tone. Dark fantasy rubs shoulders with dark humour and full-on left-field surreality, such as encountering a distraught maiden who engaged in carnal pleasures with an undead Wollock, guarded by an obsequiously polite undead warrior with suicidal tendencies. "We wanted to go back to the first Divinity," Vincke concluded. "It's the first one in a modern jacket."
Which sums up Original Sin rather nicely, really. From what I can see, Larian are on course to make the game that they wanted Divine Divinity to be, but with all the acoutrements we expect a decade on. Plus, should you not be entirely satisfied, you'll be free to use the included level editor to make your own adventures; creating entirely original content with powerful tools and an intutitive scripting language rather than having to learn programming from scratch.
Divinity: Original Sin is slated for a Q2 2013 release on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.